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Damned, The (2006)

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The Damned reviewStarring Todd Bridges, Victor Zaragoza, Jose Rosette, Chris Angelo, Elias Castillo, James Logan, Michael Rinks

Written and Directed by Jose and Ed Quiroz


The Damned is one truly appropriate title, as this movie is indeed damned. If you watch it, then you’re damned too. The tagline on the case should have been “Abandon all hope ye who pop this in their DVD player.”

The Damned is sort of like Fright Night in that it has to do with a murderous vampire that moves into the neighborhood of a young man who uncovers the terrifying truth and needs the help of his friends and a supposed vampire hunting expert to deal with the murderous bloodsuckers. There are some differences though — tremendous differences. The Damned is set in the barrios of Oakland, the vampires all look and behave like drug thugs whose skulls should be getting bashed in by Vic Mackey on an episode of “The Shield”, Todd Bridges of “Diff’rent Strokes” fame replaces Roddy McDowell in the role of the hapless vampire hunter, the trio of friends spend most of the movie sitting on the couch arguing over how they should deal with their vampire problem, the production values are slightly above the level of homemade porn, and in the biggest difference of all, The Damned sucks on a monumental scale. This is easily one of the sorriest excuses for a horror movie I’ve ever seen.

Someone, anyone, please tell me how crap like this gets released? This is an amateurish home movie, not something deserving of wide release DVD distribution. This does not belong on the shelf at Blockbuster; it deserves to sit on the shelf of the people that made it so that they can corner unfortunate acquaintances in the future with the phrase, “Hey, wanna see the movie I made?” I have to wonder if even the Quiroz Bros. think the film they’ve made is worth a damn. This isn’t guerrilla filmmaking; this is the filmmaking equivalent of backyard wrestling at its worst. I can’t think of a single redeeming quality, and I sure as hell cannot comprehend how any self respecting production company would think this is a film worth distributing. That the distribution company released it to DVD with some eye-catching artwork but didn’t bother to include a single image from the movie on the back of the DVD case should tell you that even they knew the film they were putting out was worthless garbage. Damn you, Image Entertainment!

Do I just keep renting the horrendous ones or is horrendous filmmaking the norm for no budget urban horror movies these days? I’m hard pressed to think of a single one I’ve watched that didn’t end in tears on my part. The Quiroz Bros. previously made one called Hood of the Living Dead, a film I did not see but the fact that they’ve already made a film tells me they cannot even use the first-time filmmaker excuse to justify just how rotten their new one is.

After young Tom Castro inadvertently stumbles upon the truth about the new neighbors and stakes one with his broken baseball bat, the vampires vow bloody vengeance. Their repeatedly clumsy attempts at doing so consist mainly of sneaking up on either Tom or his two buds, a skinny horror movie geek and a chubby non-horror movie geek, then standing there snarling or cackling at them, showing off their fangs, and patiently waiting for someone to do something to run them off. It gets so pathetic that at one point the following actual dialog exchange takes place between two of the vamps:

“Why didn’t we kill them last night?”

“Because they were expecting us to.”

Oh, is that why? And here I thought it was because if they had, then the movie would have only been 35 minutes long, not that I would have been upset if it had been.

Enter Todd Bridges (“Willis” in the classic TV catchphrase “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”) as a bumbling private investigator turned wannabe vampire hunter who has been pursuing this particular vampire clan along with his Caucasian sidekick that looks like a smaller, surfer dude version of ‘Dauber’ from the sitcom “Coach”. Todd Bridges looks like Sir Laurence Olivier compared to the rest of this cast. I cannot use the word “actor” to describe the truly atrocious attempts at acting on the part of the cast. “People that recite lines of scripted dialog” would be a more fitting description, although they’re not even particularly good at doing that little.

Tom and company will spend much of the movie sitting around the living room (at least half the film takes place here) arguing over the possible existence of vampires and, once they finally agree on the topic, figuring out what they’re going to do about it. To break up the monotony they’ll occasionally have these conversations standing up, and in one scene they actually go outside to talk. Likewise, the vampires also prefer to stand around their new residence and talk about killing Tom and his friends. They break up their monotony by either venturing out to feed on characters that are introduced just long enough so they can be killed off moments later or going about their insipid attempts to wreak havoc on our heroes. And let’s not forget about those edge-of-your-seat scenes in which the main police investigator and the head forensic scientist discuss the murders in great detail. The police actually blame the vampire killings on a rogue mountain lion at first. This is yet another subplot that just keeps going around in circles.

The movie attempts to have something resembling a storyline, but it’s such a directionless mess that it always falls back on people sitting or standing around talking like they’re reading from cue cards (badly!) with the occasional pathetic vampire encounter tossed in, and all this goes on for what feels like 76 minutes of eternity. I haven’t even mentioned the painful punk rock that permeates the film’s soundtrack. Somewhere in heaven, The Ramones are weeping.

About the only good thing that can come from a movie like The Damned is that it should give inspiration to all wannabe filmmakers out there that they too can get their film nationally distributed in the biggest video store chains in the country regardless of how terrible it is on every conceivable level. On second thought, that might not be such a good thing after all.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

  • A Demon Within
2.0

Summary

A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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